Rafik Cressaty swung open the heavy wooden door of his Dunwoody Italian restaurant on Saturday afternoon, and inside, the soft lighting still gave an intimate feel to the dining room.
Diners won’t be able to gather at the bar at Carbonara Trattoria for pre-dinner cocktails, and the high-top tables in the lounge have given way to a single table for six to respect new regulations for social distancing in the age of COVID-19. The cozy dining room felt a bit empty. Where patrons could once almost rub elbows with their neighbors, there now were wide berths between tables.
Cressaty said Carbonara served 40 patrons when the restaurant reopened Friday night, and he said he was hopeful for about three-dozen Saturday night. Seventy patrons are on the schedule between lunch and dinner on Mother’s Day.
“Hopefully it will be a good day tomorrow,” Cressaty said.
Many businesses were preparing Saturday for what they hope will be a busy Sunday, as people venture out for the second weekend since Georgia’s shelter-in-place order ended. Traffic in the parking lots and corridors of popular shopping destinations Lenox Square and Perimeter Mall wasn’t anywhere near pre-coronavirus norms as people follow requests by state leaders to keep distances from one another.
On Saturday evening, the state Department of Public Health reported 32,568 total confirmed cases of the virus since reporting began, up 397 since Friday. The total confirmed deaths now stand at 1,401, up two since Friday night.
On Saturday morning, Gov. Brian Kemp sounded an optimistic note on Twitter. The governor said Georgia had its lowest number of hospitalized patients positive for the novel coronavirus since hospitals across the state started reporting the number in early April.
In a tweet before noon, Kemp said 1,203 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 in the state. Georgia also has the lowest number of ventilators in use since tracking began— a total of 897 out of 1,945 available respirators, the governor said.
“We will win this fight together!” Kemp said in the tweet, which featured a photo of the governor, masked, with members of the Georgia Army and Air Force National Guard.
Georgia has ramped up testing for COVID-19 and Kemp on Thursday urged all Georgians to get tested, even if they do not show symptoms.
Kemp’s shelter-in-place order expired at the end of April and the governor has allowed businesses such as restaurants to open for in-person dining, with new restrictions, and permitted other businesses such as salons, bowling alleys, tattoo parlors and fitness centers to reopen with some conditions.
Public health experts have warned the state risks triggering a new wave of cases with the loosened restrictions, though any potential spike in cases might take a week or longer to appear. Cases of COVID-19 are now confirmed in all 159 Georgia counties.
In DeKalb County, Michael Thurmond, the county’s chief executive, handed out masks and hand sanitizer at a Big Lots store on Candler Road in Decatur. Between Wednesday and Saturday, the county distributed about 4,000 care kits.
Cressaty said Carbonara survived the weeks its dining room was closed thanks to a robust carryout business.
Friday was Carbonara’s first night of dine-in service with two seatings by reservation only at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sunday starts a lunch service.
The restaurant has a loyal Dunwoody following, the kind of place where the servers know the regulars.
“We did everything the guidelines said. It worked fine,” Cressaty said. “The servers are used to hugging the patrons. No hugging. No handshaking. No nothing. It’s hard.”
Reopening hasn’t been easy for many businesses.
» COMPLETE COVERAGE: Coronavirus in Georgia
The owners of Little Rey Al Carbon in Piedmont Heights announced on Facebook Thursday that the popular Tex-Mex spot will be closed temporarily after an employee tested positive for the coronavirus.
“Maintaining the safety and health of our guests and our staff continues to be our top priority, and we have notified all team members who may have come into contact with this individual, and we are actively working with the local health department and medical professionals to get the staff tested immediately,” a company statement said.
At Candler Park Flowers in Atlanta, patrons lined up in masks to pay for Mother’s Day bouquets.
Beth Harmon, who lives in Cherokee County, bought flowers in honor of her late mother, Betty Kitchens. Saturday was the 25th anniversary of Kitchens’ death. Harmon also bought flowers and had them delivered to three family friends who live in Macon and Savannah whom she called her second mothers.
Harmon said she and a friend, whose mother also died, planned to lay flowers at the base of a tree he planted in his late mother’s honor.
“She’s still being remembered, and she’s still being honored,” Harmon said of her mother.
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